Newtown Kindness hosted its first Therapy/Comfort Dog Walk-A-Thon on Saturday, November 2, to launch and raise money for its “Charlotte’s Litter” Program to recognize the benefits of therapy and comfort dogs.
Newtown Kindness is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization founded after the tragedy at Sandy Hook School in an effort to encourage, facilitate, and recognize the value of kindness, according to the organization.
The Charlotte’s Litter program was designed by the parents of Charlotte Bacon, one of the children killed on 12/14. JoAnn and Joel Bacon, along with Charlotte’s brother Guy, created the program not only because Charlotte had a love for dogs, but also due to their own personal experiences with dogs in the wake of the tragedy, according to Newtown Kindness. The program’s aim is to advocate for animal assisted activity with therapy/comfort dogs and their roles as supportive friends and trusted companions.
According to the Newtown Kindness website, the event let attendees know more about “the Newtown Kindness mission, Charlotte and her love for animals, the impact that therapy/comfort dogs have in Newtown, the program’s literacy efforts, book publishing plans, and therapy/comfort dog support goals.”
Saturday’s Therapy/Comfort Dog Walk-A-Thon was so popular, registration was closed before the event began. The walk took place under partly cloudy sunny skies on the Fairfield Hills Campus. Tents were set up for registration and to promote different aspects of the Newtown Kindness efforts.
Gathered participants milled about before the walk, with therapy/comfort dogs walking beside their owners.
Just before the walk, Newtown Kindness Co-Founder and Chairman Aaron Carlson introduced attendees to the event and to Ken Murdoch, a Newtown Kindness board member.
“I want to, first of all, thank you Ken, for organizing and making today happen, because it is fantastic,” said Mr Carlson.
He also introduced “the two people whose strength has really inspired all of us,” JoAnn and Joel Bacon.
Ms Bacon thanked everyone in attendance before sharing something she wrote for the occasion.
“This program is so true in our hearts. It is something that has kept us going in many ways,” said Ms Bacon.
Ms Bacon thanked everyone in attendance for helping Charlotte’s family begin a journey to honor “our sweet Charlotte.”
“Charlotte was a child, but she understood what a dog’s love meant and what it meant to love a dog,” said Ms Bacon. “The beauty of dogs is their magnificent ability to help their human friends. In the past ten-and-a-half months our family has had the opportunity to learn this firsthand.”
A month after the tragedy, Ms Bacon said her husband returned to work and her son returned to school. Ms Bacon said her primary job was to stay at home and care for her children. Things like making Charlotte’s favorite breakfast and washing, combing, and putting Charlotte’s hair up were no longer daily happenings.
“But my need to be her mother never left,” said Ms Bacon. “I searched and prayed for a new purpose in those early days. Something that embodied Charlotte and was true to her innocent young age. It was around this time that Guy was coming home, sharing stories of these dogs that had been visiting school. It was a highlight for him. School was no longer the easy and safe place it had been, but the therapy dogs brought comfort to Guy and his schoolmates.”
As Ms Bacon listened to the stories about the therapy/comfort dogs, she said she felt like a whisper in her other ear was saying, “Mommy, these dogs are special.”
Ms Bacon said she was fearful of the memory of Charlotte being shifted to suit the needs of others. Charlotte’s story, Ms Bacon said, is more than a girl who loved the color pink and wanted to be a veterinarian.
“...Let me share just a small fraction, holding my hand walking these trails, sometimes on this very campus, Charlotte would eagerly ask every dog owner if she could pet their dog,” said Ms Bacon. “As she was bestowing doggy-love she would ask their name, if they knew any tricks, what type of dog they were, and a whole slew of other questions.”
Charlotte, her mother said, knew that dogs were something special. After hearing Guy tell her about therapy/comfort dogs, Ms Bacon said she began researching.
“I realized that just as Charlotte wanted to care for dogs, these dogs were sent to care for us,” Ms Bacon said. “Do I believe that Charlotte had something to do with this? You bet I do. It was in that moment that I realized that this was Charlotte’s Litter.”
She shared her research with her husband and later her son. Charlotte’s Litter gradually became a family effort, she said.
“We have received so much comfort, love, and friendship from these dogs and their owners,” said Ms Bacon. “We continue to receive as we move forward in our plan to bring awareness to their beautiful work and further advocate for their use, particularly in education and helping with trauma and crisis intervention.”
Mr Murdoch thanked all the dog handlers, walkers, and sponsors for the event.
“All you have to do is look around you. All you have to do is see the comfort, feel the compassion, and feel that confidence that no matter how tragic things are, things are just going to be okay,” said Mr Murdoch. “That’s the great thing and the aura that these animals create.”
He also announced that the very first Charlotte’s Litter program will be launched in January in a school in Connecticut that is interested in having 15 dogs in classrooms.
The walkers were divided into two loops for the walk, and both loops allowed walkers to complete a mile. To begin the walk, Charlotte’s family members released pink and white balloons and said, “We love you Charlotte,” at the start of both loops.